Maine secretary of state can't explain Senate District 25 ballot 'discrepancy'

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FALMOUTH — Even the secretary of state has never seen anything like the disputed Maine Senate District 25 election.

“This type of discrepancy has not occurred in recent memory,” Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said in a press release Tuesday.

The “discrepancy” was the appearance of 21 ballots from Long Island that helped swing the results of a recount for away from the initial, unofficial winner, Democrat Catherine Breen of Falmouth, to her Republican opponent, Cathleen Manchester of Gray. 

The problem is, there apparently were more votes than there are voters in Long Island.

Initial returns from Long Island showed Breen received 95 votes, Manchester 65, and 11 ballots were left blank, for a total of 171 votes cast, which is consistent with the warden’s count of votes cast from Long Island. 

However, during the recount, 21 votes – all for Manchester – were discovered, so the returns for Long Island then showed Breen with 95 votes, Manchester 86, and 11 still left blank. That’s a total of 192 votes cast from Long Island on Election Day, 21 more than the warden’s list.

Long Island is a town of 230 residents, with one polling place and one election warden, who is also the town clerk. Ballots are counted by hand.

The Maine Democratic Party has since referred to these 21 ballots as “phantom ballots.”

Dunlap said his office considers the matter closed, and “now constitutionally in the purview of the Maine State Senate.”

“The voter list and the 21 ballots for Manchester recorded in the recount but not tabulated on Election Night will be among the materials available for review by the Senate as it resolves the disputed election,” he said. “It will be up to the Senate to try to discern what’s happened here.”

A seven-member committee to be appointed by presumptive Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, will examine the results.

According to a release from the Maine Democratic Party, Breen and the party are reviewing their legal options. The release also urged Dunlap, the Senate, and “other investigative bodies that oversee this matter” to investigate the Long Island discrepancies and other inconsistencies, including disputed and missing ballots.

The initial results for the open senate seat showed Breen won by a margin of 32 votes. Manchester, despite initially saying she was content with the results and would not challenge, called for a recount the following the day.

The recount, which was held two weeks later on Nov. 18, showed that Manchester had upended Breen, and was the winner by 11 votes.

Breen and the Democrats did not sign off on the results, saying there were many inconsistencies, including nine disputed ballots as well as 10 unaccounted votes from Cumberland and Westbrook, according to Rachel Irwin, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party. 

The Democrats wanted a second recount of the votes on Nov. 18, but Irwin said the attorney for the Republican Party objected, which led to the Democrats refusing to sign off on the results.

The Long Island ballots and other documents will be sealed and stored at Maine State Police Headquarters in Augusta, and will be available for the review process by the Senate committee.

The Legislature convenes on Dec. 3. Breen will be provisionally seated until the Senate committee makes a decision.

Senate District 25 includes the towns of Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.